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James Patton Q&A
OU offensive line coach talks about the 2010 squad

Last fall, James Patton did more shuffling and shifting with Oklahoma’s offensive line over the course of one season than he had done in his initial three seasons combined. Ten different Sooners started at various times on the injury-ravaged front wall, which understandably struggled for consistency much of the season.

Even in the face of so much adversity, OU’s offensive line coach managed to get his patch-work crew to help produce a pair of impressive season-closing victories against Oklahoma State and Stanford. And with six full- or part-time starters back from that group, Patton feels he has the nucleus to build around this season and beyond.

Sooner Spectator caught up with Coach Patton after a recent practice to get his thoughts on what the 2010 season might hold for his improved and healthy O-line.

Sooner Spectator: What is the biggest difference between this year’s offensive line and last year’s, and all of the positives you see with this group?

James Patton: I think the depth we have up there is probably the biggest thing. Our guys are practicing hard and working well together, and that’s always a big factor. But the number of quality backups we have — we are three deep across the front — is important. The competition up front is good where we have a number of guys pushing each other for playing time. We’ll have a starting five, but ideally, we’d like to have eight or nine guys in that rotation. I think we have that right now, so it definitely gives you some options in the long run.

SS: Are there positives that ultimately came out of all the adversity your O-line went through last season with the injuries and all?

Patton: Definitely. Especially with so many guys picking up valuable experience. Guys like Eric Mensik, who had a chance to play the last two games at right tackle and who’s come into camp this fall and done a good job accepting the challenges of that role. But definitely guys getting quality experience is the main positive from the way things unfolded last season, along with having examples of our guys playing in game situations on film and being able evaluate and teach from that. Right now, the biggest challenge is to play together as a group, be consistent and stay healthy.

SS: You mentioned Eric Mensik — how has that transition from tight end been for him and for his teammate Gabe Ikard?

Patton: It’s been great for them. Both young men have accepted it and bought into it, and have made great progress. If we needed to, both Eric and Gabe could go back and play tight end if we needed them to in a particular situation, but right now they are working on the offensive line and they’ve both proven they have the right mindset for it. Blocking is blocking — they both blocked when they were tight ends and did a great job, and now they’ve put on a little size and we feel they’re going to do a good job for us inside.

SS: Another guy who has a chance to make an impact up front is Donald Stephenson. How has his maturation process gone?

Patton: I think he’s progressing well. He seems to have made good strides in a number of areas and that’s a positive. Donald had a good spring for us and then turned around and had a good summer. The thing with Donald is he hasn’t played a single snap yet on Saturdays, so we’ll find out more about him when that happens. But he’s been practicing at a high level, working hard and he’s especially working on being consistent in what he does. Every rep he gets means that much more experience he has as we get into the season.

SS: It seems Ben Habern and Stephen Good are a couple of young guys who have quickly developed into leaders up front for this offense. Is that the case?

Patton: Definitely, they’ve played as young players and leadership can come from that experience. Performance on and off the field is important and those two guys are the type of guys you like to have representing your football team. And the thing about Ben and Stephen is, with their work ethic and positive attitudes, they are only going to keep getting better.

SS: In general, what are the ingredients for a good collegiate lineman?

Patton: I would say this first, you’ve got to work extremely hard. That’s a choice you have to make to be successful at any position, but especially as a lineman. The thing I tell our guys every day is there are two things you can control that take no God-given ability — your attitude and your investment. You either have a great attitude or a bad attitude, and that is going to determine much of your success at this level. And that’s completely up to you. As for making an investment, it all comes down to how hard you want to work. If you have those two things, that’s a big step in the right direction.

SS: In your current offense, especially the way you spread the field at times, is it tougher to run-block or pass-block?

Patton: I think every lineman likes to run-block, to come off and block the guy right in front of you. That just makes sense. But the reality is you have to be able to do both, and do them well. We have a fairly balanced offense, but we have to establish the run which requires a physical presence. Protecting the quarterback is just as important — making sure he doesn’t get hit. The key is having a physical presence up front on both run and passing situations.

SS: How important is it for the quarterback, like Landry Jones, to have total confidence in his line and supporting cast?

Patton: It’s huge. Extremely huge. They have to earn that trust and let the quarterback know they have his back. Same with running backs, the O-line has to give those guys a reason to trust them by the way they fight, by the way they sustain, by the way they get in their gaps, by the way they go the right way. Again, that trust is developed through working together in practice and over the course of the season, and it is big.
Every time we go out there, we’re going to fight our butts off for the quarterback, and work hard for the running backs to help make sure they are able to execute the game plan and be successful. That is kind of a lineman’s pride — go out and set the tone. If we don’t get our jobs done the right way, it’s going to be hard for everyone to get their jobs done. Be the first one out of the locker room. Be the first one up to the line of scrimmage and be ready to go. That’s the attitude you’ve got to take.